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Navy jet crash: A day many in Virginia Beach have feared

April 06, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Smoke billows from an apartment complex where a Navy jet crashed in Virginia Beach, Va.
Smoke billows from an apartment complex where a Navy jet crashed in Virginia… (Associated Press / WVEC-TV…)

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms said it was the kind of news he's long dreaded: A U.S. Navy jet from  nearby Naval Air Station Oceana dropped out of the sky Friday and slammed into a neighborhood.

A search for victims was underway Friday afternoon in and around apartment buildings at the crash scene at 24th Street east of Birdneck Road in Virginia Beach, Va.

No fatalities had been reported as of midafternoon local time, but authorities caution that could change.

PHOTOS: Navy jet crashes into apartments in Virginia Beach

Six people, including the jet's two crew members, were taken to a local hospital after the crash. The extent of the injuries was unknown, though they didn't appear critical, according to media reports. At least one person was being treated for smoke inhalation.

The crash occurred around 12:30 p.m., EDT, and the two pilots aboard ejected safely. One of the pilots was reportedly found in a backyard, still strapped to his seat. The crash sent up a dramatic plume of black smoke that could be seen for miles.

"It's something I pray everyday that doesn't happen," Sessoms told the local media, "but it has."

His comments underscored the sometimes-uneasy relationship that residents seem to have with the local air station. They're fiercely proud of the base, even as they live in quiet fear of the realities that such close proximity can entail.

Although crashes are rare, they do happen. Friday's crash reminded many of the 1986 tragedy that occurred when an A-6E Intruder taking off from Oceana crashed and skidded onto Oceana Boulevard, killing a woman sitting behind the wheel of her car. Two crewmen were also killed.

On Friday, hundreds of government employees were either dispatched to the area or standing at the ready. Firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency responders -- even homicide detectives and animal control workers -- had been prepared for a comprehensive rescue-and-response plan that many hoped would never be needed.

Meanwhile, emergency responders were trying to piece together eyewitness reports. One witness, Daniel Cavanaugh, was standing in a nearby convenience store parking lot when he noticed the F/A-18 Hornet flying unusually low. Suddenly, Cavanaugh said of the pilot, "he dropped out of the sky."

Other witnesses saw the jet spewing fuel -- most likely a safety measure -- before it made contact. "There's nowhere he could have touched down in a safe way," George Pilkington, another witness, told CNN in a telephone interview.

The smell of fuel in the area was overwhelming, according to residents.

That's just one of the reasons Sessoms urged the public to stay away from the crash scene.

People and motorists rushing into the area either to view the dramatic scene or to search for loved ones could unintentionally put themselves in harm's way or create congestion that impedes the work of emergency responders.

"Stay away," he pleaded during an interview with a local TV station. "Please stay away."

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